DEARBORN, Michigan — In 2007, Ford's Sync virtually defined the in-car electronics interface that now, in some form or another, is a feature of nearly every new vehicle.
For all its vision and good intentions, though, Sync — and more importantly, its touchscreen-based follow-up, MyFord Touch — for many also came to be synonymous with frustration, as laggy processing speeds, fussy graphics and stubborn voice recognition often marred the system's many commendable design and engineering breakthroughs.
Ford is confident a heavily redesigned new generation of Sync, called Sync 3, addresses all those drawbacks while also introducing several important new upgrades as well. The company said Sync 3 will be available for all new 2016 models, although executives here wouldn't be pinned down on exactly when Sync 3 will hit production or which 2016 Ford — or Lincoln — vehicles will officially be the first to get the system.
Sync 3's most visible improvement is evident as soon as the home screen fires up: gone are the quadrants that divided phone, audio, navigation and climate-control functions and their accompanying too-small graphics in favor of a smartphone-type starting point that features chunky, finger-friendly touch areas that feature immensely larger fonts and a similarly styled function tray at the bottom.
The touchscreen now also incorporates common swipe and pinch gestures. This all presumably will be considerably easier to manipulate while on the move (we're still unsure of how much attention-demanding swiping or pinching should be happening on the fly), although Ford presents journalists here only with static demonstrators.
Not only does this promise you a vastly easier-to-use interface, the "guts" of Sync 3 are all new: Ford has left original partner Microsoft by the side of the road in favor of software and firmware developed in conjunction with Panasonic and Blackberry's QNX division.
While this means current vehicles equipped with MyFord Touch or MyLincoln Touch won't be upgradeable, Ford promises the change in software partners and other enhancements will supercharge Sync 3's performance to all but eliminate the lag between when you make a touch or voice command and when the system reacts.
Speaking of speaking, Ford also said Sync 3 incorporates a more conversational format for accepting voice commands. Speak an entire address or a song name and Sync 3 will take it from there. Voice searches are designed to generate more intuitive results and when using Apple iPhones, Sync 3 provides the full Siri Eyes-Free voice-command experience.
And an upgraded AppLink function means Sync 3 automatically discovers system-compatible apps on your smartphone and displays their unique icons on the main touchscreen.
Also new to Sync 3: the system's software can be updated via an embedded Wi-Fi connection. No more USB sticks or trips to the dealer to install system upgrades.
One last improvement: Sync 3 marks the official end of the maligned MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch names for current touchscreen-equipped Sync systems. The systems in all Ford and Lincoln models now will use the Sync 3 name.
Edmunds says: Ford continues on its quest to have Sync's user interface live up to the system's potential. We like what we've seen in our first look, but as all in-car electronics interfaces, the proof will come in how easy Sync 3 is to operate while on the road.